Hallo, Aro: Antagonist – K. A. Cook

Banner for Hallo, Aro Allosexual Aro Flash Fiction. Image features dark black handwritten type on a mottled green background. Diagonal rows of arrows with bands, heads and fletching in the colours of the green/light green/white/yellow/gold allo-aro pride flag cross the image above and below the text.

Hallo, Aro is a series of (mostly) flash fiction stories about allosexual aromantic characters navigating friendship, sexual attraction, aromanticism and the weight of amatonormative expectation.

Contains: A trans, heterosexual aro who realises that his story’s self-designated heroes leave him one role to play.

Male. Heterosexual. Aromantic. Evil.

Content advisory: This piece focuses on the intersection between allo-aro and trans antagonism as wielded or weaponised by some cis women against those trans people they deem too masculine and/or insufficiently feminine (with a “man = predator” radfem undercurrent). Please expect sex-negative/slut-shaming language, exorsexist language, antagonism directed at heterosexual aromantics, trans erasure and depictions of/references to amatonormativity and misogyny. It contains moderate, somewhat-explicit sex mentions and references.

Links: PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 1, 579 words / 6 PDF pages.

Note: If you need more context, please check out my How (Not) to Ally piece on why you shouldn’t limit allo-aro representation to unquestionably good, moral and sex-in-long-term-relationship-having characters.

After an hour spent in agonised wakefulness, Cai surrenders to temptation. He isn’t careful as he slides out of bed: Sarah slept through a slew of buzzing notifications, after all! Nor does she stir as he fumbles in the dark for yesterday’s jeans; she slumbers peacefully despite the jangling as he grabs her handbag from the floor and their phones from his bedside table.

How can she sleep? How dare she?

He hesitates in the doorway, fighting the urge to shout, yell, roar … but the phone in his hand vibrates, and he looks down despite knowing better.

Well? Is CB as slutty as said? I’m dying to know!

Compared to earlier messages, it’s almost a compliment.

No. Cai releases a long, shuddering breath. Queer folks support a trans, het, aro musician if his songs and persona remain relatable to the cis women who see him as a softer, safer, not-quite man; that same audience will regard anger as proof of his becoming the enemy—of testosterone poisoning. If he wants to survive Sarah with his career intact, he can’t be marked as aggressive!

Years passed before Cai reached this pinnacle of playing at queer-friendly clubs while scraping enough from online subscriptions to cover rent if not medication and dentistry. Years.

Shivering, he heads to the kitchen.

Sarah approached him after his set—less common an occurrence, these days, but hardly unusual. She smiled, her curls bouncing, before asking if she could buy him a drink. They talked books and music, delighting in a shared hate for jingles and post-modernist fiction. Her self-deprecating sarcasm made him laugh so hard that he snorted lemonade across the table. When she hooked her ankle around his before running her hand up his thigh, Cai had no reason to think she wanted anything but to hook up.

She was imperfectly good, salvaging awkward moments through a willingness to goof around. Some past partners—Lenora!—regarded sex with such sacred solemnity that they may as well have fucked to a drama film’s orchestral soundtrack. He doesn’t understand profound; he understands girls slapping his arse. Something as simple as horny people getting off together. Something as complex as fun.

They slept, afterwards; Cai woke to a buzzing sound. Her phone lay within his line of sight, and he couldn’t avoid reading the message on the glowing screen: Did you go through with it? Do CB?

He assumed that Sarah texted a friend from the bar … until the second message.

I can’t believe you’d even touch that after all those girls. You’re brave, hon! Waiting for your post!

A flood of questions and comments arrived over the next hour. While Sarah slept, Cai discovered himself the subject of her friends’ mocking derision. A filthy, notorious fuckboy about which Sarah planned to write in the name of protecting the women he lures to bed … but, this time, after the courageous diligence of her own research.

A user who discards women after sex.

(An aromantic.)

The kitchen offers no sanctuary, just yesterday’s dishes and a flickering light bulb. Cai slumps onto a stool, placing bag and phones on the crumb-covered bench. Every nerve in his body thrums. Smothering a twinge of morality with wounded anger, he opens her purse in search of licence and bank cards.

Sarah Williams.

Common as names go, but while Cai can’t unlock her phone, the visible push notifications reveal her friends. That, after a little snooping, gets him her website: a collection of posts, reviews and submissions dissecting local queer events and artists. She even maintains a helpful list of “problematic” creators … where Cai learns that she’s attended most of his gigs, recording the number of women with whom she saw him leave.

How is it that a trans man who sings about misogyny can’t see that using women for sex is a misogynistic act? Is it, perhaps, because men don’t experience it?

While humour pervades her conversation, her socials provide the same brutality as drinking from a bottle of rubbing alcohol and crushed glass. Nonetheless, Cai—despairing at his once-wise decision to limit social media in favour of writing—keeps scrolling. It doesn’t matter that most partners haven’t sent anonymous submissions; it doesn’t matter that some accusations are so obviously exercises in reaching that any sensible person must laugh. He can’t look away.

“Fuckboy” puts it kindly.

CB ghosts women after fucking. Women and non-men avoid.

Dated me for two years only to drop me after transitioning. Immediately began to slut around. Men, right?

True, in a way.

Cai, in his only long-term relationship, tried to oblige the expected motions of romance and womanhood. He hoped, over time, to find the nebulous something that made Lenora speak of their femininity-forged bonds. He wanted to love her. He tried to love her! But despite her worshipping at the altar of lesbian affection, he found nothing but alienation and confusion; a belief in gender as construct didn’t make “woman” feel less false when applied to him. No amount of butchness made “sapphic” feel like his welcome truth.

Only through questioning his gender and discovering his transness did Cai find the path to questioning his orientation and discovering his aromanticism.

He thought Lenora understood his halting explanations. He believed they ended the relationship as peaceably as a heterosexual aromantic and a lesbian alloromantic can. He never imagined that accepting himself as a man who likes to sleep with women but doesn’t wish to date them would result in a bitter story stripped of language and context.

(Does he use his aromanticism to justify predatory behaviour? Has he become nothing more than a heterosexual man preying on women—a man who uses his transness to deny his misogyny?)

He only stops reading when his phone slips from his shaking hands. What to do? What? Beg Sarah to stop writing about him? Pretend to want to date her? Explain that he’s never romanced a woman for sex? Provide an impromptu lesson on amatonormativity, sex negativity and the precarious position aromantic heterosexuals occupy within the wider queer community? Just ask her why?

Have Sarah’s posts already circulated beyond her network of friends?

He wants to cry, rage, scream.

Nobody ever asked Cai, before sex, if their developing feelings for him may present a problem. Should he start asking, alongside the usual queries on safety, consent and preferences, about the likelihood of his partners later complaining about the sex into which they willingly entered because … what? Because he’s passed the acceptable number of casual partners? Because Lenora feels betrayed by his not being an alloromantic cis woman?

Yes, he has ghosted some women after they kept pressing for a serious relationship. Yes, he can learn to better explain his lack of interest in non-casual sexual relationships. Yes, he should focus his attention on the women he knows aren’t after anything serious instead of accepting a friendly stranger’s invitation.

(Even when she says nothing about her expectation to date … or her online denigration of both his sexual history and his experiences as a trans man.)

Will these changes make him less “creepy” without his needing to become alloromantic?

“Did you take my bag?

Cai turns to face the doorway. Sarah stands before him, dressed in last night’s skirt and top, her heels held in one hand. Hard eyes glare at him from above flushed cheeks.

“You went through my things?”

Don’t get angry. Cai exhales and glances at the window, morning’s light peeking through the shutters. Hours spent sitting and thinking offer up no solutions: how does one fight against hatred when already cast as the story’s villain?

Male. Heterosexual. Aromantic.

Evil.

He barks a laugh. What option has he but to lean into the role? Realise that his years spent making himself acceptable to the queer community have gained him nothing but lasting fear? Acknowledge that the only way to appease Sarah and all like her is to become something he isn’t—alloromantic? Question the nature of what determines “moral” and “immoral”—because the supposed moral guardians reject his right to speak about misogyny as a trans man?

(If many cis men endure less criticism for the same consensual sexual behaviours, how does Cai not experience it?)

Did he endure the anguish of coming out only to bow in terror to those wielding a second set of erasing strictures?

He’s an aro trans man who likes casual sex. A fuckboy. Justifiably angry.

(Isn’t she a queer cis woman who instigates casual sex with known fuckboys while justifying this to her friends as “research”?)

“Aren’t you going to say anything—”

Cai drops Sarah’s phone inside her bag, clasps the handles in his sweating palm and walks into the tiny, cluttered lounge.

She races after him. “Don’t you walk away from me—”

Breathing heavily, Cai opens the front door and hurls the handbag onto the cold, dewy front step.

It lands with a cracking thud; Sarah’s lips part, her face rigid with shock. “You fucking creep! If you’ve broken—”

He steps away from the door, placing Sarah between himself and the doorway before walking forwards like a dog nipping at a flock’s heels, leaving her with nowhere to go but backwards. “You write me into your stories as the antagonist. Why are you surprised when I decide to become one?”

His slamming the door in her face must provoke several vicious posts.

It also provokes Cai’s satisfaction … and fear of costly consequences.

K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, agender autistic who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and fiction about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. You can find hir blogging at Aro Worlds and running the Tumblr accounts @aroworlds and @alloaroworlds.

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